Benjie Oliveros | Aquino Government Should Urgently Address Hunger Problem Instead of Denying It Exists

The results of the SWS November 27-30, 2010 survey revealed that the prevalence of hunger worsened in a matter of three months.

By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Analysis
Bulatlat.com

Every time the incidence of hunger worsened during the previous administration, the Arroyo government used to dismiss the findings of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey on hunger as subjective while boasting that the economy was doing well and its benefits would soon be felt by the people. Because the previous Arroyo administration dismissed the existence of the problem, instead of reviewing its policy directions and drawing up urgent measures, hunger and poverty worsened further reaching a record high of 24 percent in December 2009. And now, the Aquino government, which was propelled to power because of its campaign slogan of “change,” is doing the same thing.

The results of the SWS November 27-30, 2010 survey revealed that the prevalence of hunger worsened in a matter of three months, when the same survey was conducted in September. According to the November SWS survey, 18.1 percent or 3.4 million families said they experienced hunger, an increase from the 15.9 percent or 3 million families who said they had gone hungry in September. This was slightly below the 19.1 percent average in 2010.

Those who experienced moderate hunger increased two points to 15 percent or 2.8 million families while those affected by severe hunger remained at 13.1 percent or 588,000 families. The incidence of moderate hunger increased in all areas nationwide.

The increase in overall hunger was highest in Luzon, outside Metro Manila, followed by Mindanao, then Metro Manila. It remained the same in the Visayas because while moderate hunger increased, the percentage of those who experienced severe hunger decreased.

How did the Aquino government react to the results of the SWS survey? It has been doing what the previous Arroyo administration did, deny the problem. One would cringe upon hearing the explanations of Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman.

She said that first, the amount being distributed as part of the government’s program in addressing poverty and hunger, the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, is not sufficient for families with more than three children – the maximum number of children beneficiaries per family. Second, she said, people’s perception of hunger must have increased because of the abundance of food in some families due to the Christmas season.

With these explanations, it appears that the Aquino government is simply dismissing the problem.

First, it is blaming poor families for having too many children. Well, if what Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman is saying is true – that the amount being distributed as CCT could not mitigate the poverty of families with more than three children – then it is an admission that the CCT program would be a failure because it is sorely insufficient. The solution should fit the problem and not the other way around. If the CCT is meant to mitigate the poverty of the poor, who generally have large families, then the amount should be based on the number of family members.

Second, it is dismissing the increase in the incidence of hunger as a mere perception, or worse, the result of envy. This explanation reminds us of the twisted logic of the previous Arroyo administration.

While hunger could be denied by people who are optimistic and hopeful, it could not be invented. This may partly explain why the incidence of hunger suddenly dropped from a high 21.2 percent in March 2010 and 21.1 percent in June to 15.9 percent in September without the Aquino government doing anything substantial since it had been in office for only three months then.

Hunger is not a product of gut feel, it is a real feeling in the gut. Only overweight people who tend to overeat because they have an abundance of food feel that they are hungry even when they are not. And this description would definitely not fit the poor majority.

The worsening hunger is the result of unemployment, which has remained high, and the lack of sufficient income, especially since wages have remained low while prices of basic goods and services have been increasing. Already, the Philippines is one of the countries where the people’s income are being spent mainly on food, which is an indicator of the lack of disposable income.

Oil prices continue to increase, and so would power generation charges. Food prices are expected to increase again because of the destroyed crops due to the cold spell in Baguio and the floods in Bicol, Eastern and Western Visayas regions, and in Mindanao. Likewise, the people could expect prices to increase further due to the raising of toll fees because truckers would pass on the additional cost to companies, which, in turn, would pass this on to consumers. The impending increase in MRT and LRT fares, which the business community hailed as a sign of the Aquino government’s “political will,” would also be an added burden to the people.

Hunger would even worsen further because of the devastation and displacement being caused by the floods in Bicol, Quezon, Western and Eastern Visayas regions, and in the Agusan and Surigao provinces in Mindanao.

The Aquino government could not simply dismiss the problem of worsening hunger as if it does not exist because the problem is real. However, with its preference to giving more weight to the interests of local and foreign private investors than that of the ordinary employees, workers and peasants – who constitute the majority – then hunger would expectedly worsen in the coming months and years. If the Aquino government really wants to solve the problem of hunger and poverty, it should exercise its “political will” in the right direction: toward defending the rights and interest of the poor majority and the general public. ()

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